Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(18)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(18)
Author: L.J. Smith

“Hello,” he said, using the candle to light a candelabra at the front of the store. “What can I do for you?”

“Cora’s gone. Violet took her,” I said dully. “Damon’s disappeared. Samuel’s getting away with murder every night, and a crazy witch is now running around with a vial of my blood. I don’t have any money, my name is worthless, and for all I know the relocation spell was cast for Violet’s benefit.”

James looked up at me, grimacing. “You’re ranting like a madman,” he said.

“I’m sorry. But I’m in a hurry. I need to get Cora back before anything horrible happens to her. Do you understand?” I asked firmly. I didn’t trust James. I didn’t trust anyone. My gaze landed on the beating hearts in a jar on a shelf. What did those do? I had a wild desire to buy everything in the store. The answer had to be somewhere. And I was feeling more and more that the hawthorn in my pocket was useless, just a ruse to get my blood.

“Sit down.” James gestured at a threadbare red chair across from me. Realizing how tired I was, I sank down, massaging my temples. Mice were scurrying in the far corners of the store, and it was impossible to tell whether they were there because it was filthy or because they were an essential part of the inventory.

Across the counter, James was bustling around at his small stove range. Finally, he turned to me, a steaming mug of tea in his hands. “Goat’s blood. It’ll cure what ails you.”

Of course. Why had I expected anything else? “It won’t,” I said angrily. “I just don’t understand what I can do. I tried magic, I tried force, I have these supposedly bewitched thorns…”

“Hawthorns?” James perked up.

I nodded.

“Well, that’s a good weapon.”

“It is?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes. And there’s your problem. Ephraim handed you a weapon that might actually work against your enemy, and you shove it away because you don’t trust the source. And therein lies the rub. You may be immortal, have the strength of ten lions, and be as quick as lightning, but you need to accept help. You can’t fight Samuel alone.”

It didn’t take long for me to grasp what James was implying. “I need Damon.”

“Good.” James nodded, as though I were an exceptionally clever student. “He’s at a boardinghouse over on Brushfield Street. Two blocks to the west. Came in four times yesterday and nearly cleaned me out of my vampire-hunting supplies. He got a holed stone to see the future, he stocked up on a few stakes, he got some hazel arrows for a crossbow, even though hazel is more effective in subduing bad fairies… I’m telling you, I’m making a killing off him.” I winced at the phrase. “Sorry,” James said. “Go find your brother. Maybe he’ll give you some fresh ideas. At the very least, it’ll keep you off the streets. No good can come from ranting and raving like a lunatic, mark my words.”

“Thanks,” I said stiffly. I stood up, feeling awkward. Did James just feel sorry for me, a vampire who couldn’t stomach death? Or was James a true friend in the vast network of underworld creatures, one who hadn’t lost his humanity? “Truly, thank you,” I said again, searching my pocket for some token with which to repay him.

“No need,” James said airily. “You’ll pay me back in some way. In the future.”

With a parting glance, I left, following James’s directions to the boardinghouse, my heart thudding against my chest. I tried not to think about what Violet was doing with Cora, not allowing my imagination to go to the dark places that probably held the truth.

I stopped at a tall brick building with a ROOMS FOR RENT sign hanging in its entryway and knocked on the door.

“Come in. Door’s open,” a voice croaked. I pushed open the door. A wizened old man was sitting at a rickety desk, poring over a ledger book. I coughed. “I’m looking for… Damon de Croix,” I said as he looked up.

“Damon de Croix?” The man let out a harsh bark. “If you mean the half-crazed gentleman who paid me with a handful of foreign currency, then he’s in Room 411. Although God knows what he’s doing in there. By the stench of it, he’s a failed taxidermist.” He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Thank you,” I said, racing up the stairs to the fourth floor. I slammed against the cheap wood of the door, easily breaking the lock. There, in the filthy, dark room, was Damon, bending over an oversize flowerpot on the windowsill. It was amazing that anything could grow in the weak light coming through the dirty window glass. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a wooden crossbow propped against the cast-iron bed.

“Brother,” Damon said dully, glancing up from the windowsill, sounding neither surprised nor angry. It was as though he was expecting me. I wondered if James had given him an identical message. He may not have been a witch, but if James could get Damon and me to reconcile, then he certainly worked magic.

“What are you doing?” I asked. It was hard to concentrate with the scent of vervain everywhere. I imagined that was what was growing in the pots. I felt woozy and weak, and I wondered why Damon was inflicting this torture on himself.

“I’m dosing myself with vervain,” Damon explained. “If Samuel can do it, I can, too. And then, once I’m fully immune, I’ll dose the water supply. Prevent Samuel from feeding and compelling in this city. The details are fuzzy, but the plan will work.”

“You’re ingesting vervain?” I asked in disbelief as I looked at the six paltry vervain plants. All they were doing was torturing my brother.

“Sometimes, brother,” Damon began, rolling his eyes, “you need to understand an enemy to vanquish him. Plus, suffering only makes you stronger,” he said resolutely.

I took a seat on the bed. I hadn’t come here to fight. I needed help. But what I wanted was the in-charge, confident Damon, not the rambling, maniacal man in front of me. Despite his outburst on the night of the Ripper killings, I knew he cared about Cora. I only hoped the mention of her would bring him to his senses.

“Samuel has Cora.”

Damon stiffened and dropped a sprig of vervain to the ground. But then he shrugged. “Well, we knew that would happen, eventually, didn’t we?” he said bitterly.

“I need to get her back,” I said firmly. “And I need your help.”

“You need my help,” he mocked. “What about all the other times you’ve said that? Didn’t work out so well.” He stood and crossed over to me, so close that I could smell blood on his breath. The rich, smoky scent was obviously human, and I couldn’t help but wonder where his blood supply was coming from.

“You need my help, too,” I said firmly. “Like it or not, we’re in this together. And we need to fight together, not against one another. We’re on the same side.” The desperation in my voice was plain, and I was showing all my cards. I didn’t have a strategy, and I wasn’t trying to one-up him.

A flicker of something—doubt, anger, or acceptance, I wasn’t sure—crossed Damon’s face.

“All right,” he said finally. “I’ll help you. But this time, brother, we do it my way. You follow my directions in the fight. I’ve been doing research,” he said, gesturing to piles of musty books piled on the floor. Damon? Doing research? This was a side of him I’d never seen. He’d never been one for books, always preferring to trust his instincts. “I have everything. Wooden bullets, sand, stakes…”

“Sand?” I asked in confusion.

Damon shrugged. “Apparently it’s a deterrent. It wasn’t for me when I was in the Sahara, but James said it could slow down a vampire on the run. I figure it can’t hurt.” He paused. “In the end, Samuel will be destroyed. It will be bloody, and there may be unintended victims. If you can’t handle that, then get out now and leave me to do what needs to be done.”

“I’m all in,” I said calmly. “And Damon… I’m sorry.”

Damon nodded. “All right,” he said. In Damon’s vocabulary, “all right” was as good as “apology accepted.” I decided I’d take it. I had to.

“Samuel has an office in the Magdalene Asylum where he feeds on the girls and keeps some of his campaign papers. We can sneak in, wait for him, and then…” Damon trailed off. Then what? Kill him? Follow him? Beg for Cora’s life back? This was going to be tricky, and we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

“It’s almost daylight. The girls will be going to Mass soon. We’ll sneak in then,” I said. “We can set traps with our supplies. If this is what we’re doing, we have to go now.”

“I have weapons,” Damon muttered. “I’ve been experimenting with explosives. Of course, I’d love to kill Samuel with my bare hands, but I wouldn’t mind watching his body burn.”

“Great,” I said. I was glad we were agreeing on something, even if it was the best way to murder our mutual enemy.

“Let’s kill him. I want blood on the floor, and his body ripped apart. I want him destroyed,” Damon said as if in a trance. His eyes were bloodshot and his skin was pale. The porter at the door had been right—anyone would take him for a madman.

He was out for blood. I was out to save Cora. But for now, our mission was the same: Take down Samuel in any way possible.

18

The sun was just coming over the horizon when we reached the Magdalene Asylum. Damon had an oversize rucksack on his back, in which he’d pack his explosives, his crossbow, his stakes, and my tiny pouch of hawthorn.

When we reached the Asylum, it was nearly seven. Our plan was to wait until the girls left to go to Mass, then sneak through the back and find the office Cora had described. We’d set our traps in the office, lie in wait, and then, when Samuel came in, we’d attack.

The church bells pealed and, as if on cue, the doors burst open and a line of girls trailed out behind Sister Benedict. I recognized several of them from the benefit. Their eyes darted from left to right, as if they were afraid Jack the Ripper would attack them at any moment. It was clear they were shaken by Cathy’s murder, but I doubted they remembered the incident in the basement at the benefit. Samuel would have made sure of that. I wondered if they thought Cora had met the same fate.

As soon as the line of girls turned the street corner, my brother and I looked at each other.

“It’s time,” Damon said tersely. We stole to the rear of the brick building and found a small, unused door that led to the basement. Damon pushed against it with his shoulder, and it burst open.

“Shhh!” I said, too late, as it banged against the wall. The iron-rich smell of blood wafted toward us from the passageway.

Together, we tiptoed down a set of rickety wooden steps and into the basement of the Asylum. The light streaming from a few tiny windows gave the hallway a grayish glow. A row of nondescript doors with glass windows lined the hallway. One of them must be Samuel’s office. I cocked my head, but I couldn’t make out any noise except for the dripping of water in the laundry at the end of the hall.

We crept closer, following each other’s movements in silence.

“Wait,” Damon whispered. He paused and rifled through the bag, finally pulling out a crossbow and a stake. He passed the stake over to me. “Just in case,” he said as he propped it on his shoulder.

We continued to creep down the hall until the sound of footsteps stopped our progress.

“Get ready!” Damon hissed.

What if it was one of the nuns or one of the girls? The last thing I wanted was for them to see the de Croix brothers creeping around the basement brandishing weapons. I hid the stake under my shirt, ready if I needed it, but hidden, just in case. Damon kept the crossbow raised, but sunk deeper into the shadows of the basement.

Just then, a large figure lumbered into view. He was wearing filthy clothes and looked like a giant in the cramped basement.

“Who are you?” he asked gruffly. He had grease stains on his clothes, and I wondered if he was a handyman for the Asylum.

“From the Magdalene Church,” I said. “Sister Agatha’s asked me to check on the building. There’s been a lot of structural damage due to rain. Want to make sure it won’t collapse,” I lied.

“All right,” the man said, scratching his head.

“I’m surprised Sister Agatha didn’t mention anything.”

“No, she didn’t tell me,” the man parroted. He was so tentative in his words and actions I thought he must be slow, and was relieved when he shuffled on down the hall.

Damon moved out of the shadows, shaking his head. “What was that idiot doing down here?”

“It was just an Asylum worker,” I said, hoping I was right.

“If he comes back, I’ll kill him,” Damon decided. “We can’t take any more chances.” He shot me a glance as though he expected me to disagree, but I nodded. He was right.

“Good,” Damon said.

We started up the hallway, trying the doors on either side as we passed. The fifth door led us into Samuel’s office. Damon glanced at me, triumphant. “Let’s get to work,” he said, rifling through his bag. He pulled out a pair of gloves and tossed them to me.

I pulled them on, then set about tying hawthorn needles dipped in vervain to a length of wire and stringing it around the office. Damon stood on a chair in the corner, rigging a gun loaded with wooden bullets to be triggered by the trip wire now lining the room.

We worked silently. Damon had been right—it was him or us. The traps were crude and makeshift, but I hoped they would be enough. They had to be.

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